Tuesday, July 10, 2012

History of Donkey Kong Resumes Tomorrow

Sorry you guys, I have had a pretty busy week, so I haven't had time to sit down and write anything substantial. Don't worry though, I will be returning to my regular schedule starting tomorrow, so stay tuned for that!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I am Alive!

I know I haven't updated in about a week, and I said that I would be back by last Sunday. However, as you may know by now, a powerful storm swept across the Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the USA and knocked out power for millions of people living in those areas. Unfortunately, I was one of those millions of people. When I arrived back at my apartment Sunday afternoon, I discovered that I didn't have any electricity, and it probably would not be restored until the next Friday.

Luckily, my power came on an day earlier and I can now access the internet today. Sorry about the lack of updates, but it was out of my control. I will resume posting as soon as possible, and the final part of my History of Donkey Kong series will be the first thing I start work on.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Out of Town

Just wanted to let you guys all know that I will be out of town until Sunday evening. I won't have an internet connection, so there won't be a post until I get back.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The History of Donkey Kong, Part 2: The Rareware Years

Welcome to part two of The History of Donkey Kong! If you have not read part one yet, then you can click here to find it.

Just a few months after the release of the 1994 Game Boy game entitled Donkey Kong, Nintendo would publish a new game staring the famous ape for their Super Nintendo Entertainment System. However, this time, the game was not developed in house by Nintendo's own developers, but by a British company known as Rare. Before delving into the impact Rare's game had on the series, there is a bit of history to cover when it comes to how the game came about.

The story of how the British developer became involved with Nintendo and their famous Donkey Kong franchise predates the 16-bit era. Rare was a rather prolific developer during the days of the 8-bit home consoles, developing and releasing over forty games for Nintendo's original home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System. They ended up making a large margin of profit off of their games, and when the NES's successor was released in the early 1990s, Rare decided to limit the amount of games they would release. Instead of putting their money toward developing a large number of games, Rare decided to invest in an expensive computer that could render high quality 3D graphics from a company called Silicon Graphics. The decision to purchase the computer ended up making the developer one of the most technologically advanced video game companies in the United Kingdom at the time.

Rare decided to use their newfound technology to create a demo of a boxing game that could run on Nintendo's new 16-bit console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or the SNES for short. In 1993, representatives from Nintendo were visiting the British developer when they saw Rare's boxing game. The representatives were so impressed by what Rare could accomplish on the SNES that they immediately informed the higher ups at Nintendo's Kyoto headquarters.

After seeing the demo, Nintendo's top executives were blown away by what Rare had managed to produce and ended up purchasing a 25% share of the company, which later expanded into a 49% share, meaning the British developer could now only create games for Nintendo's consoles and handhelds. They then told Rare to create a game that looked better than Aladdin, probably referring to the Sega Genesis title that was lauded for its stunning visuals and fluid animation. Nintendo recommended that Rare create a game starring Donkey Kong, since the ape's universe had not been expanded upon yet.

After receiving the okay from Nintendo to develop a Donkey Kong game, Rare took a large financial risk and bought a considerable amount of Silicon Graphics computers to aid their development. They started to model Donkey Kong in 3D, and they had to go to their local zoo in Twycross to study the apes to see how they looked and moved in a real environment. Rare ended up slightly altering the famous ape's design after their trips to the zoo, and the new design eventually became the design fans equated with Donkey Kong.

During development, one of the first problems Rare ran into was the issue of fitting the game onto a Super Nintendo cratridge. The 16-bit console was not powerful enough to model the new models of Donkey Kong, the environments, or the animations in real time. To get around this issue, the developers are Rare created their own compression technique in house, which they ended up calling Advanced Computer Modeling, or ACM. This allowed the company to model and animate the game on the Silicon Graphics computers they bought and then convert the data into layered sprites on the SNES. 

Once they started designing the gameplay for their new Donkey Kong game, Rare looked to Nintendo's famous platforming series for inspiration. After studying various ideas and concepts from the Super Mario games, the British developers decided they wanted the gameplay to be so streamlined that the player could defeat every level without stopping. This resulted in fast paced gameplay that would eventually become one of the most loved aspects of their new game. Rare also decided during development that they did not want a HUD, or heads-up display, cluttering the screen, so the came up with the idea that Donkey Kong could only take one hit her before dying. Of course, the game would be too difficult if that one hit was the only hit you could only take before losing, so the developers are Rare came up with the idea of a buddy system. After Donkey Kong was hit, a new Kong would take his place in the overworld.

Originally the buddy was supposed to be Donkey Kong Jr., but Rare ended up completely redesigning the younger ape. When the developers at Nintendo saw the new design for Donkey Kong Jr., they felt that his design had changed too much. To please the video game giant, Rare ended up turning Donkey Kong Jr. into a completely new character named Diddy Kong. This new character ended up being faster and more agile than Donkey Kong during actual gameplay, offering some variety between the two characters.

Near the end of development, Rare showed off a version to the higher ups at Nintendo's headquarters. Many staffers voiced their skepticism about the game, including Gunpei Yokoi. Nonetheless, the man whose opinion really mattered, Shigeru Miyamoto, approved of what he saw. He even started giving a few tips to the development team, one of which led to Donkey Kong's now signature move, the hand slap.

After a total of one and a half years of development, Rare released Donkey Kong Country for the SNES in late 1994. When the game hit store shelves, it received universal praise from both critics and gamers for its fast paced gameplay, stunning visuals, and atmospheric music. Despite the great reception, the developers are Rare were worried about their game would underperform commercially, due to the fact that the upcoming 32-bit consoles, the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation, were all the rage at that point. As we all know now, the hype for the next generation did not impact sales of Donkey Kong Country at all. The game ended up selling around nine million copies and became one of the SNES's best selling games, managing to successfully revive a franchise that had not seen a major commercial success in over ten years.

Not only did Donkey Kong Country become of the Super Nintendo's success stories, but it also expanded greatly on the Donkey Kong universe. Before Rare got their hands on Nintendo's oldest franchise, the Donkey Kong series only had a handful of characters and locations. With the release of Donkey Kong Country, gamers were introduced to a new world called DK Isle, the island that Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong called home, and a completely new cast of characters. 

These new characters were Cranky Kong, Funky Kong, Candy Kong, and King K. Rool. Cranky Kong was Donkey Kong's cantankerous grandfather and the original Donkey Kong from the 1981 arcade game. Candy Kong was Donkey Kong's love interest and girlfriend who saved your game for you, and Funky Kong was a surfer who provided Donkey Kong with a quick way to get from world to world. Last but not least, King K. Rool was the evil reptilian leader of the new enemies of the game, the Kremlings, who stole Donkey Kong's hoard of bananas.

In addition to the new characters, Donkey Kong Country added many new gameplay elements that were well received, with the most of notabale of which being the inclusion of animal buddies. While a variation of the concept of animal buddies had been seen before in Super Mario World in the form of Yoshi, Donkey Kong Country had five wildy different animals that would help you along your journey. These included Rambi the Rhino, Enguarde the Swordfish, Expresso the Ostrich, Squawks the Parrot, and Winky the Frog. 

Along with the animal friends, Donkey Kong Country included a multiplayer mode that allowed two people to play through the main game together. While one player would control Donkey Kong himself, the second player would control the more agile Diddy Kong. Yet another addition to gameplay was the inclusion of multiple collectible items for the player to find as they played through the game. If the player managed to collect a certain amount of the collectibles scattered across each level, then they would be rewarded with an extra life. One of the collectibles, bananas, would eventually go on to become one of the staples of the entire Donkey Kong franchise.

With the success of their newly released game, Rare decided to follow it up with a sequel where Cranky Kong argued that the original Donkey Kong Country was only successful because of the new, fancy graphics. To prove he was right, he arranged for K. Rool to steal his grandson's banana hoard once again, forcing Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong to go on an 8-bit adventure for Nintendo's Game Boy. In the summer of 1995, gamers had the chance to experience this new, less colorful adventure known as Donkey Kong Land, which was released on a special yellow cartridge for the Game Boy.

Rare's newly released game borrowed numerous elements from the SNES title, including two of the animal buddies, the ability to play as Diddy Kong, the high number of collectibles, and the overall gameplay. However, the Game Boy game did have its own level designs, bosses, and story, which differentiated it from its console predecessor. In addition, Donkey Kong Land only had four worlds and it was also only a single player game despite the inclusion of Diddy Kong.

Donkey Kong Land received praise from critics and sold a large amount of copies, but just like the 1994 Donkey Kong game for the Game Boy, Donkey Kong Land was overshadowed by another game in the series that was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Just a few months after the release of Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong's 8-bit adventure, Rare released the next game in their Donkey Kong Country series, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest.

Although the 1995 SNES adventure was a sequel to a game staring Donkey Kong, the ape was not available to play as due to the fact that the nefarious King K. Rool, under the alias of Kaptain K. Rool, kidnapped him in an elaborate plot to steal the ape's hoard of bananas again. It was now up to Donkey Kong's loyal sidekick, Diddy Kong, to explore the home base of the Kremlings and rescue the ape from the clutches of evil. Of course, Diddy could not do it alone, so he enlisted the help of his girlfriend, Dixie Kong.

Donkey Kong Country 2 played very similarly to its predecessor, but with a few key additions. The first was obviously the lack of a big, strong character to play as and the inclusion of a new, smaller playable character. Despite Dixie's small size and stature, she was not as fast or agile as her boyfriend, but she did have the ability to hover in the air for a short amount of time. Both characters in the new duo were also able to pick up the other other character and toss them short distances, which allowed for the player to reach new heights and areas that they could not reach in the previous game.

Furthermore, there were five new animal buddies in the game to aid the Kongs on their journey to rescue Donkey Kong. These new animals included Rattly the Rattlesnake, Squitter the Spider, Clapper the Seal, Glimmer the Anglerfish, and Flapper the Parrot. The five new animal buddies in conjunction with four returning animals from Donkey Kong Country and Diddy and Dixie Kong's new abilities provided a gameplay experience that was different enough from the first Donkey Kong Country to be fresh, but also familiar enough to entice returning players.

Gamers would use these new abilites to make their way through more difficult and better looking levels, attempting to collect an array of new collectibles, such as DK Coins, Banana Coins, and Kremkoins. Unlike the original Donkey Kong Country, one of the new collectible items, the Kremkoins, unlocked an extra, secret world for fans to play through if they managed to collect all of them.

If the inclusion of Dixie Kong, new animal buddies, the new collectibles were not enough, Rare also introduced gamers to two new characters, Wrinkly Kong and Swanky Kong. Wrinky Kong was Cranky Kong's wife, and she offered players the ability to save their game since Candy Kong was no longer present, and Swanky Kong was a game show host who would allow Diddy and Dixie Kong to play mini games at the cost of a few Banana Coins.

Because of the better visuals, sublime soundtrack, and sheer amount of new content Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest introduced to the series, it was praised by fans and critics alike. While it did not sell as well as the first Donkey Kong Country, many fans today regard the second game as the better of the two.

Following the release and success of their second Donkey Kong game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Rare developed a second Donkey Kong Land game for the Game Boy. Diddy and Dixie Kong returned once again in Donkey Kong Land 2 in the fall of 1996. While the first Donkey Kong Land differed greatly from the game that inspired it, Donkey Kong Land 2 had quite a bit in common with Donkey Kong Country 2. The level names were the same, the worlds were the same, the bosses were the same, and the story was similar. Although many aspects were identical to the 1995 SNES game, the layouts of the levels were changed in Donkey Kong Land 2. Even with the large amount of similarities, the Game Boy game went on to be a financial success, selling millions of copies world wide.

Around the same time Donkey Kong Land 2 hit store shelves, Rare released the third Donkey Kong Country game for Nintendo's now aging Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was titled Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble, and it no longer starred Diddy Kong or Donkey Kong, due to the duo disappearing after exploring some islands. For the third time in a span of two years, players would be introduced to a new playable character that would tag along with an already known character. In this case, Dixie Kong recruited her younger cousin, Kiddy Kong, to join her in an adventure to find and rescue the two missing Kongs.

Just like the first two, the third Donkey Kong Country game introduced new items to collect, characters to meet, and animal buddies to befriend. But in this game, Kiddy Kong was the only new Kong to be added to the growing list of characters, and instead of introducing the players to more Kongs, the game introduced them to a group of bears known as the Brothers Bears. Also, while adding Ellie the Elephant, Parry the Parallel Bird, and Quawks the Parrot to the roster of animal buddies, Donkey Kong Country 3 removed quite a large number of already established animals, with only Squawks the Parrot, Enguarde the Swordfish, and Squitter the Spider returning.

Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble received favorable reviews and ended up selling millions of copies world wide, but it was not as successful or as well received as the second Donkey Kong Country game due to the fact that it did not improve on the previous formula nearly as much as Donkey Kong Country 2 did. Additionally, Nintendo's new console, the Nintendo 64, had just launched a few months prior to the release of the third game in Rare's trilogy, which impacted sales some. The industry, along with gamers, had moved on from the the 16-bit era and were excited for new games using polygonal models.

But before fans of the Donkey Kong series would be introduced to a fully realized 3D Donkey Kong game, Rare had one last 2D sidescrolling game to make. The year after the Donkey Kong Country trilogy was finished, Rare, for the third and final time, created a Donkey Kong Land game. Like the other two previous games in the Game Boy trilogy, the third Donkey Kong Land game borrowed many aspects of Donkey Kong Country 3's gameplay. Donkey Kong Land III had the same bosses, playable characters, and setting. However, it did change the level names and worlds, making it more different from Donkey Kong Country 3 than Donkey Kong Land 2 was from Donkey Kong Country 2. While the game was received well by critics and fans, it was the worst selling game out of the three Donkey Kong Land games.

By 1997, it was clear it was time for Donkey Kong and his new cast of friends and family to move into the realm of polygons. Donkey Kong's original nemesis, Mario, had already made the jump from 2D to 3D the year prior, and fans were eagerly awaiting to see what Rare had in store for the Kongs. However, gamers would have to wait a couple of years before Donkey Kong's first and only original adventure for the Nintendo 64 was released. In the mean time, Donkey Kong and friends appeared in countless spin off titles and party games due to the popularity of the Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Land games.

From 1996 to 2000, Donkey Kong appeared in titles such as Mario Kart 64, Mario Tennis, Mario Party, Super Smash Brothers, and Mario Golf as a playable character. Not a single other Kong introduced during the Super Nintendo years appeared in these games, but it is worth noting that the long forgotten Donkey Kong Jr. did make an appearance in Mario Tennis for the Nintendo 64 as a playable character. It would be the last time the young ape would appear as a playable character in a video game.

Although Diddy Kong did not appear in any of the spin off titles Donkey Kong appeared in, the smaller Kong did get his own spin off titled Diddy Kong Racing, which was released in 1997. Originally, the Nintendo 64 racing game was going to be another entry into Rare's old RC Pro Am series, but Nintendo persuaded the British developers into including Diddy Kong to make the game more marketable. The game itself was rather unique for a racing game, due to the inclusion of a story, which was about an evil wizard named Wizpig attempting to conquer Timber Island. There was also an adventure mode with a hub world and three different vehicles to use based on the environment you were racing in.

The races in Diddy Kong Racing were similar to races in Nintendo's Mario Kart series, but with a few major differences. The game's world was divided up into five different areas, with each area having a certain number of races. In these races, your goal was to come in first so you could win a gold balloon. This was due to the fact that in order to unlock the next race in each area, the player needed to collect a certain number of gold balloons, and the main way to earn them was through winning races. Later in the game, the player was also tasked with the duty of collecting a certain number of silver coins while still managing to come in first in order to earn a gold balloon.

After coming in first in every race, the player would face off against a boss. These boss races were usually more difficult due to the boss' speed and their ability to attack you without using items. When you managed to defeat the boss, the player was given a piece of Wizpig's amulet, which, when the player collected every piece of the amulet, they would face off against Wizpig himself.

Diddy Kong racing ended up being praised by racing fans, critics, and Donkey Kong fans due to its unique structure and world. It is still regarded as one of the best racing games on the Nintendo 64, and fans are still enamored by the diversity and fun gameplay the 1997 game provided.

During these years of spin off titles featuring Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong, an animated television show called Donkey Kong Country was produced. It took place on DK Isle, and it starred many of the Kongs introduced in the Donkey Kong Country series, such as Candy Kong, Dixie Kong, Cranky Kong, and of course, Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong. The show only lasted for two seasons and a total of forty episodes, but its existence proved how popular the Donkey Kong series had become in a mere four to six years.

Finally, in 1999, after years of spin offs and a television series, Rare released Donkey Kong's first 3D adventure for the Nintendo 64, Donkey Kong 64. King K. Rool was back and more sinister than ever. He had built a new weapon called the Blast-O-Matic, which he was going to use to destroy DK Isle, but unfortunately for him, his new weapon malfunctioned just as he was about to use it. To buy time while he fixed it, he kidnapped four of the Kongs and stole Donkey Kong's hoard of Golden Bananas. 

The game was packed with so much content that it was actually the very first game to require the Nintendo 64's expansion pak, which expanded the Nintendo 64's available RAM from 4 MB to 8 MB. There was a total of five different characters to play as, eight large and open worlds to explore, tons of new collectibles, ranging from Golden Banans to Crystal Coconuts, and additional modes to play in outside of the main game. While this sounded good on paper, many long time fans were miffed by the finished product they waited so long for.

One of the main things these fans took issue with was the fact that Dixie Kong was not in the game. In her place a completely new Kong named Tiny Kong, Dixie's younger sister. Fans felt like Tiny was a blatant clone of Dixie, mainly due to her ability to float in air for a short amount of time using her hair. 

Additionally, many characters and their relationships were changed for the Nintendo 64 adventure, the most notable of which being that Donkey Kong was no longer the grandchild of Cranky Kong, but his son instead. This meant that the Donkey Kong gamers had been playing as since 1994 was actually Donkey Kong Jr. Also, Winkly Kong was now dead and only appeared as a ghost to help out the five Kongs on their journey to save DK Isle. 

The actual gameplay of Donkey Kong 64 had more in common with Rare's other noteworth platforming series, Banjo-Kazooie, than it did with the previous Donkey Kong games. Instead of levels and worlds being linear progressions like in the Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Land games, each world of Donkey Kong 64 was a large, open environment that allowed the player to go anywhere as long as they had the ability to do so. Scattered around these worlds were Golden Bananas and regular, colored bananas that the player had to collect in order to proceed to the next world. The gameplay of Donkey Kong 64 was actually so similar to that of Banjo-Kazooie that one of the worldss, Fungi Forest, was originally designed as a level for Banjo-Kazooie before being scrapped and moved to Donkey Kong 64.

The gameplay, collectibles, and status of characters weren't the only things to change in Donkey Kong 64, as the Kong family saw the addition of three new characters. As previously mentioned, one of the three was Tiny Kong, while the other two were Lanky Kong, a strange looking orangutan, and Chunky Kong, the cowardly cousin of Dixie and Tiny Kong, and also Kiddy Kong's older brother. A weasel named Snide also joined the cast of characters and provided the Kongs with information on how to deactivate King K. Rool's Blast-O-Matic machine.

Despite the game having much in common with Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64 did keep some elements from the sidescrolling games. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong once again returnred as playable characters, and the animal buddies Enguarde the Swordfish and Rambi the Rhino also returned for another adventure, albeit this time, Rambi and Enguarde were much more limited. They each only appeared in one portion of one world, and Donkey Kong was the only Kong who could use Rambi, while Lanky was the only Kong who could use Enguarde.

Even though there were changes fans were not happy with, Donkey Kong 64 received reviews praising the gameplay and platforming elements. It also went on to sell around five million copies worldwide, becoming a financial and commercial success.

After the release of Donkey Kong 64, it was clear that the Nintendo's 64 life was coming to an end. Sega had already launched their Dreamcast system, and Sony was planning on releasing the Playstation 2 in 2000. Gamers eagerly anticipated the next generation of Donkey Kong games, wondering what Rare could come up with next. In 2001, Rare and Nintendo showed off a trailer for a sequel to Diddy Kong Racing, this time starring multiple characters from the Donkey Kong universe. Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, and Tiny Kong were shown racing on enemies and animal buddies originating from the Donkey Kong Country series.

Sadly, gamers would never get to play the next generation racing game. In 2002, it was announced that the founders of Rare and Nintendo had both sold their shares of the company to Microsoft for $375 million US dollars. The new console developer owned one hundred percent of the company after the buyout, meaning Rare could no longer create games for Nintendo's home consoles.

After the Rare buyout, no one knew what the future held for Donkey Kong. For the eight years before the purcahse, Donkey Kong had been synonmous with Rare. The future was full of mystery and worry, and no one could have predicted the rocky future the Donkey Kong series would soon experience.

Coming soon: The History of Donkey Kong, Part 3: Donkey Kong After Rare.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy.

Ugh. I had planned on getting part two of The History of Donkey Kong series up by today, but last night and today have been busier than I anticipated. I promise it will be up by tomorrow morning, though!

Thanks for understanding!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The History of Donkey Kong, Part 1: Humble Beginnings

Since the start of the decade, Nintendo and their fans have been celebrating the anniversaries of some of Nintendo's most beloved franchises nonstop. Over the course of 2010 and 2011, Nintendo held special events and released special editions of classic video games from the Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda series to honor their 25th birthdays. This year, Nintendo is planning on doing those things all over again to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Kirby series. While Nintendo fans were happy to see Nintendo recognize their rich history, they were a little disappointed that Nintendo seemed to have forgotten that their popular Metroid series also turned 25 the same year the Legend of Zelda series did. On nearly every Nintendo related message board, you saw people bring up how sad they were that the famous bounty hunter, Samus Aran, was being ignored. However, while I was reading these people's thoughts, I could not help but wonder why no one was caring about another famous Nintendo franchise that was ignored last year.

That is right, in 2011, Donkey Kong and the entire Donkey Kong franchise turned thirty years old, and Nintendo did not even mention it. While modern Donkey Kong games are no longer anything like the original 1981 arcade game, I still think it would have been nice for Nintendo to do something for the oldest character they have. It is a feat for a video game franchise manages to last more than one or two console generations, but Donkey Kong has remained relevant for almost all of modern video game history, even if the last thirty years have been quite rocky and unpredictable for the ape.

Because Donkey Kong was ignored by both Nintendo and fans last year, I decided to put together a little retrospective of the entire Donkey Kong series, covering everything from the development of the original Donkey Kong arcade game to today. Are you ready for a video game history lesson? Well, to start off, we have to travel back in time to an era before the 1980s.

The history of Donkey Kong starts back in late 1979 when Nintendo released a shooter game named Radar Scope for Japanese arcades. Despite the game being extremely similar to other famous games at the time, such as Space Invaders and Galaxian, it quickly became immensely popular in Japan. Seeing the amount of buzz Radar Scope was creating in cities like Tokyo, Nintendo's newly opened American branch thought it would be a good idea to bring the game over to the United States. In fact, Nintendo of America was convinced that it would be so successful that the branch's president at the time, Minoru Arakawa, requested a large order of arcade units to be sent to America. Nearly one year after the initial Japanese release, Radar Scope hit American arcades and was met with lukewarm reception.

Because the sales of the arcade game did not live up to Nintendo of America's high expectations, there were thousands of unsold units sitting in warehouses across the United States. This caused the new American branch of Nintendo to have major financial troubles, and Arakawa ended up asking Nintendo's worldwide President, Hiroshi Yamauchi, to send him an updated version of Radar Scope that would sell. Yamauchi approached a young graphic artist named Shigeru Miyamoto and gave him the responsibility of fixing Radar Scope to make it more appealing to western audiences.

After receiving his new assignment, a young Miyamoto decided that he did not want to fix a poor game, but instead he wanted to create an entirely new game using Radar Scope's hardware. At the time, Nintendo was seeking out a license to create a game based on the popular Popeye comic strips, so Miyamoto originally designed his game to have a love triangle between the characters Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto. When the Japanese company failed to get the license, Popeye was turned into a carpenter, Olive Oyl was turned into the carpenter's girlfriend, and Bluto was turned into an ape. Miyamoto later stated that he chose an ape to be the bad guy because he drew inspiration from Beauty and the Beast and King Kong, and he also did not want the villain to be too repulsive.

During the process of creating the new characters, the blossoming developer did something that had never been done before -- he created a story for the game. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, arcade games did not tell stories, and, instead, focused solely on gameplay. If there was a story, it was a merely an afterthought and it was not something developers thought of while they were designing their games. Despite the industry standard at the time, Miyamoto wanted to create a storyline for his new game and ended up writing a short story explaining what was happening on screen as one played through the game. The story he came up with was the following: The ape was the mistreated pet of the carpenter, and, eventually, the ape became tired of being mistreated. He escaped his confinement and kidnapped the carpenter's girlfriend as revenge. 

The new game designer integrated the story into the game itself, creating the very first game where story actually played a role during the gameplay. Yes, you read the last few sentences correctly. The man that many people perceive as not caring about stories in video games actually wrote the very first story that played out as you were playing the game, so you can thank him for paving the way for games like Final Fantasy.

Because there was a story, the characters needed names. The carpenter ended up being named Jumpman, who of course eventually became known as Mario, the girlfriend was named Pauline, and the ape became known as Donkey Kong. There are numerous accounts of where the name Donkey Kong actually came from, but Miyamoto himself said he chose the name because he thought it would convey the image of a stupid ape. Of course, the characters were not the only things that needed to be named, as the game needed to be called something too. It was eventually decided that it would be named after the villain himself, Donkey Kong.

When Donkey Kong was finally finished, it was sent to Nintendo of America for testing. Numerous people working for the American branch were skeptical about the game and thought that it would not be all that popular, but Arakawa was certain that it would be hit. Nintendo of America's distributors eventually convinced two local bars in Seattle to install arcade units of the new game to see how it popular it would be. The locals quickly fell in love with the game, and the bars asked for more units to be sent to them. Donkey Kong was eventually released for arcades in both Japan and the United States in 1981 and almost immediately became a huge success, saving Nintendo's new American branch from financial ruin and putting the Japanese company on the map in one of the largest markets for gaming.

Seeing the success Nintendo was having with their new Donkey Kong game, many video game developers, including Coleco and Atari, approached the Japanese company asking for licenses to create their own Donkey Kong games. Nintendo eventually gave Coleco permission to create Donkey Kong video games and table top games due to Coleco's popularity in the United States at the time. In 1982, Coleco created their own version of the famous arcade game for their Colecovision home console, and they also later created a version of the game for the Atari 2600 and Intellivision. By 1983, Donkey Kong had been ported countless times and was on various home consoles and home computers, ranging from Atari's 8-bit computers to the Commodore 64 and even to Nintendo's own home console, the Famicom. The game also saw a release for Nintendo's handheld Game & Watch system, but there was only one level due to the Game & Watch's LCD screen and lack of power.

Donkey Kong and Mario were not only appearing on video game consoles across the world though. Nintendo also licensed out the rights to Donkey Kong to companies that were not even involed in the gaming industry, and the hero and villain appeared on pajamas, cereal boxes, and in Japanese comics. By mid 1983, the Donkey Kong craze had spread to nearly every single industrialized country at the time.

Despite Nintendo's success with their new game, there were still some hardships the company had to go through as a direct result of Donkey Kong. In 1982, Universal City Studios filed a law suit against Nintendo, claiming that Donkey Kong was an infringement on their popular King Kong movies. Nintendo's attorney for the case, John Kirby, pointed out that in a previous court case, Universal themselves had argued that the characters and scenarios from King Kong were public domain, and therefore, Nintendo was not infringing on any copyrights Universal had. The court ended up ruling in favor of Nintendo, but Universal City Studios appealed. In 1984, the appeals court upheld the previous verdict, meaning Nintendo could create as many Donkey Kong games as they desired.

While all of this happening in the two years following the first release of Donkey Kong, Shigeru Miyamoto started work on a sequel that would explain what happened after the original title ended. In this game, the roles of the villain and hero would be reversed. Mario kidnapped Donkey Kong after the events of the first game, and it was up to Donkey Kong's son, Donkey Kong Jr., to save the ape. This sequel was titled Donkey Kong Junior after the game's new hero and was released in arcades in both Japanese and American arcades in 1982.

Fans of the original Donkey Kong ended up loving the sequel because it took what made the first game great and expanded upon it. You were still trying to get to the top of a level by jumping and platforming, but you were now also dropping fruits on enemies to kill them and climbing up vines. These two simple additions opened up new gameplay possibilites that entertained new and old fans alike, and in the end it proved to be a winning formula.

Even though the sequel proved to be popular, it never reached the same levels of popularity as its predecessor. Still, the sequel managed to earn itself a large fanbase, and in one way or another, it eventually made its way to a large number of gaming devices, including the Colecovision, Atari 2600, Intellivision, Famicom, and Game & Watch series, just like the original. It has even seen many re-releases and remakes in modern times, proving that while it was overshadowed by the first game in the series, Donkey Kong Jr. was still a fun and entertaining game with a large fanbase.

Following the release of Donkey Kong Jr., Nintendo developed a plethora of new Donkey Kong games that never caught on like the first two did. The first of these new Donkey Kong games was a third arcade game, creatively titled Donkey Kong 3, and it was released in 1983. This third game was a radical departure for the gameplay and characters gamers had come to know and love in the first two Donkey Kong games. Instead of being a platformer staring Mario and Donkey Kong, it was a shooter starring a new character named Stanley. In this third Donkey Kong, the mischievous ape breaks into Stanley's green house and causes such a ruckus that bugs started eating Stanley's flowers. You play as Stanley, and you have to save the flowers by shooting Donkey Kong with bug spray.

Because the game never caught on, and due to it being released during the North American video game crash of 1983, Donkey Kong 3 was not ported to nearly as many home consoles or home computers as Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. The only ports it saw were for Nintendo's own Famicom home console and for two home computers that were never released outside of Japan.

Donkey Kong 3 was then followed up by another Donkey Kong game, but this new game was developed specifically for the Famicom, not for arcades. It was called Donkey Kong Jr. Math and it was released in late 1983. As you can probably guess, it was a game that taught players simple math skills, and the gameplay involved maneuvering Donkey Kong Jr. around vines and chains to correctly answer math questions. There was also a multiplayer mode that allowed two people to play the game at the same time for the first time in a Donkey Kong game. In this extra mode, Donkey Kong would show you a number, and then you had to race against a friend to come up with an equation that would create that number.

Needless to say, the Famicom game was not well received by critics or fans, and it was actually one of the worst performing launch titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System when it was released in North America in late 1985. It was panned for having clunky controls and for just being a boring game. The poor sales and reception of Donkey Kong Jr. Math was more than likely the reason Nintendo of America did not localize other Nintendo developed educational games for the 8-bit console.

The last two games in this slew of Donkey Kong games were released in 1984 and they were both for the Game & Watch series. The first of the two games, released in the latter half of the year for the Game & Watch Panorama series, was Donkey Kong Circus. Like most Game & Watch games, the gameplay was extremely simple. You played as Donkey Kong, who was balancing on a barrel, and you had to catch and toss pineapples up into the air while avoiding fireballs. The second game, which was entitled Donkey Kong Hockey, was released for the Game & Watch Micro Vs. series. As you can probably guess from the title, this game was a hockey match between Donkey Kong and his arch nemesis, Mario. Because it was for the Game & Watch Micro Vs. series, there was also a multiplayer option in the game where a second person could jump in and play if they so desired.

After Donkey Kong Hockey was released, the ape and his son went missing for nearly an entire decade. While Mario was receiving games left and right and expanding upon his own universe, Donkey Kong was in the middle of a long hiatus. It would be eight years before one of the apes would be spotted again in a new and original game. In 1992, Nintendo released Super Mario Kart for their new Super Nintendo home console, and one of the eight available characters to race as was Donkey Kong Jr. It was a sign that Nintendo had not forgotten about the younger ape or his father, but it still was not a game starring the original Nintendo villain or his offspring. Finally, two years after Super Mario Kart's release and ten years after Donkey Kong Hockey's release, Nintendo released a game simply titled Donkey Kong for the Game Boy. 

At first the Game Boy game seemed like yet another version of the 1981 arcade classic, due to its name, story, and the first four levels of the game being based off of the four levels from the original, but once you managed to get passed the beginning, it became obvious that Donkey Kong for the Game Boy was a completely new and original game. While it did have some similarities with original Donkey Kong and its sequel when it came to gameplay, it added in its own twists and takes on platforming to make it feel more like a puzzle game with platformer elements.

As previously mentioned, the Game Boy game started out very similarly to the original arcade game, with Donkey Kong kidnapping Mario's girlfriend, Pauline, and taking her to a construction site. After completing the first four levels from the original Donkey Kong, the ape ran off with Pauline, and Mario pursued. What you discovered after that is that the game was divided up into nine different worlds, with multiple levels in each world, very similar to most other platformers of the era. 

In each level, Mario had to make his way passed various obstacles to reach a key which unlocked a door at the very end of the level. Each world also had at least two levels where Mario would confront the ape, and these levels were either battles between Donkey Kong and Mario, or levels more like the original two Donkey Kong games where all you had to do was manage to make it to where Pauline was. In addition to these new types of levels, the Game Boy game also allowed Mario to pick up items and walk on his hands for the first time in a Donkey Kong game, which expanded upon the gameplay from Donkey Kong Junior even further.

Not only was it the first Donkey Kong game in a decade, but it was also one of the first games to take advantage of the Super Nintendo's new add on, the Super Game Boy, meaning it was one of the first Game Boy games to actually have some color in it. That was not the only new technical addition to Donkey Kong, as it was also the very first Donkey Kong game that allowed you to save your data. In addition to those changes, this was the first Donkey Kong game released where the ape was wearing his now signature tie.

The game was extremely well received by the media and fans and was even named best Game Boy game of 1994 by the gaming magizine Electronic Gaming Monthly. It took the best aspects from Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. and added to them to create a fun and addicting game. Despite the rave reviews, the Game Boy Donkey Kong would be overshadowed by another Donkey Kong only a few months after its release. This new Donkey Kong game was released for the Super Nintendo and was created by a certain British developer.

Click here for Part 2!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Super Metroid Review

Just a note, I have no idea why there are random spaces in the middle of this review. I'm trying to figure out how to get rid of them, but I've been unsuccessful so far.

Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: SNES (Also on Wii's Virtual Console)
Release date: March, 19, 1994 (JP), April 18, 1994 (NA), July 28, 1994 (PAL)

Throughout the years, the Metroid series has garnered a loyal following despite the fact that the series is not one of Nintendo's best selling franchises. This fanbase is rather unique among the various fanbases of Nintendo's different series because they generally agrees upon which games in the series are amazing and which are just okay. One of the games that the fanbase agrees is exceptional is Super Metroid, and they certainly are not alone in that opinion. The Super Nintendo classic has topped numerous "Best Games of All Time" lists and is even loved by people who do not avidly follow the entire Metroid series. But is Super Metroid truly an amazing game that deserves all the praise it receives, or are people just blinded by nostalgia when talking about the third Metroid game?

When you first start Super Metroid, you are given a recap of what happened in the original Metroid for the NES and Metroid II for the GameBoy. The famous bounty hunter Samus Aran has defeated Mother Brain and wiped out every Metroid except for one newly hatched baby Metroid. She then takes the baby Metroid to the Ceres Space Colony where the scientists there discover that Metroids can be harnessed to benefit mankind. Soon after Samus leaves the colony, she heads back after receiving a distress signal from the scientists on board. When she arrives, she discovers that everyone on board is dead and the Space Pirate boss Ridley has kidnapped the baby Metroid. After a short confrontation between the bounty hunter and Space Pirate, the space colony selfdestructs and Ridley escapes to the planet Zebes and is pursued by Samus.

The recap of the events from Metroid and Metroid II is a nice addition, but the story ultimately does not matter. While you never forget that you are on Zebes to rescue the baby Metroid and get your revenge on Ridley, the game does not bring up the story after the first initial cutscene. Its sole purpose is to explain why Samus traveled to Zebes in the first place and give you reason to actually play through the game. It is not there to tell a long winded narrative or a deep, thought proviking tale, and that is part of Super Metroid's appeal. Once you get through the first few minutes, the game is non stop gameplay without any interruptions, meaning it only relies on its ability to be a fun and enthralling game.

When the game actually starts and Samus arrives at planet Zebes, she is devoid of any significant abilities, only being able to jump and shoot her basic Power Beam. As you explore the large and complex system of caves on the planet, you start to retrieve some of Samus' stronger attacks and abilities, such as the iconic Morph Ball, missiles, and Power Bombs. The further into the game you get, the stronger Samus becomes. It is somewhat entertaining and rewarding to go back to the first few areas of Zebes and kill enemies like they are nothing because it shows how far you have come and how strong Samus has grown. Enemies that once took multiple hits to kill are suddenly wiped out with one shot from Samus' Power Beam.

Despite the fact that when you start out Samus cannot do a whole lot, she does have some default abilities that you do not need to gain or learn, such as the wall jump, but the game does not tell you outright how to properly use them or that you even have them. Instead, there are various animals around Zebes that are performing these default abilities for you, and it is up to you to figure out that Samus can actually replicate those moves through various button commands. It is an ingenious way to teach a new player how to play the game without interrupting the flow or mood of the game to inform the player on how pull off certain skills Samus has.

There are animals around Zebes that will teach you how to
perform basic abilities.

These core gameplay mechanics that you gain and learn as you progress through the game are so tight and well executed that it is hard to say anything negative about them. Nearly everything works as it should, it is just the matter of practicing and perfecting all the abilities Samus has. For most of the duration of the game, you will never be frustrated because you feel like the controls, physics, or mechanics are off. The only time you may feel cheated is in the latter half of the game when you have to travel through some annoying sand pits, but that section of the game is quite literally only a few minutes long, and once you get passed that area, everything works as it should.

As you traverse through the various areas of Zebes, you quickly realize that Super Metroid's world is extremely vast and open, allowing you to go anywhere as long as you have the ability to get there. The game does not tell you where to go, and it is up to you to figure out what you are supposed to do and what sections of the world you are supposed to explore first. The only piece of help you will receive from the game is a map, which, at first, will slowly fill in as you explore, but will eventually be fully revealed when you discover a room that shows you the entire layout of the area you are in. But even after you receive an area's entire map, there are still hidden areas that do not appear on it until you have discovered and explored those areas for yourself.

The fact that the map slowly fills in as you explore each new area you enter helps exemplify one of Super Metroid's main attractions, which is the sense of exploration. It feels like you are mapping out a new section of caverns under Zebes' surface, and it encourages you to search anywhere and everywhere. Even when you receive the entire map of an area, you will still feel like you are the first to explore the system of underground caves due to the hidden areas that are not on your newly found map. It is a small detail, but it goes a long way when it comes to giving off a certain sense of exploration in an isolated and desolate system of caves.

Scattered throughout these unmapped caves are hidden upgrades and items that increase the amount of missiles, energy packs, and power bombs you can carry, among other things. These hidden items are represented on the map by white dots, so the game shows you exactly what rooms have these hidden upgrades, it is just up to you to figure out how to get to them. Because of that, it never feels like the game is unfairly hiding certain upgrades and items and it can even be a surprisingly fun challenge to try to figure out how to reach quite a few of them.

The core gameplay mechanics are some of the most perfected
mechanics in gaming history.

The only gripe about hidden upgrades involves the map. While the white dots on the map are convenient for locating hidden items you have yet to pick up, they become unnecessarily confusing later in the game due to the fact that they never disappear from the map, even after you have picked up the upgrades. It becomes hard to remember which items are still there waiting for you discover and which items have already been found. It would have been nice if the white dots either changed colors or were removed from the map all together after acquiring the upgrade.

The open nature of the world and the amount of secrets hidden throughout creates an exceptional sense of reward when you finally manage to snag an item or upgrade or stumble across an area that is currently not on your map. It also encourages you to look in every nook and cranny Zebes has because you will never know when you will stumble across a new room or power up. You will find yourself bombing every wall and morphing into Samus' Morph Ball in every room just to make sure that you are not missing anything.

Because Super Metroid allows you go anywhere as long as you have the ability to get to the location desired, it is one of the most customizable games on the Super Nintendo, but not in the traditional sense. While there is a general path to follow, it will be hard to find someone who played the game exactly like you did. While you may have gone to one specific area to get a certain Power Suit upgrade, other people may have skipped that area completely since not all the upgrades are required to beat the game. Couple that with the fact that the control scheme is completely customizable in the options menu and the fact that you have the ability to turn off all or some of your upgrades you stumble upon, and you have a game that no two people will play exactly alike.

Also due to the open world of Super Metroid, there is a lot of backtracking involved just like every other Metroid game. However, it never takes more than a few minutes to go from the deepest parts of planet Zebes to the surface, making backtracking fun and not a chore. Also, as you progress through the game, you will discover new paths that create short cuts between certain sections of the world, making backtracking even faster.

The white dots on the map represent rooms with hidden items
and upgrades.

One of the most noteworthy parts of Super Metroid aside from its open world and exploration based gameplay is the atmosphere you experience as you play through the game. Samus is the only one of her kind on Zebes, and the game does exceptionally well at giving off that feeling. For the most part, every environment is either a pristine, untouched piece of land or an abandoned and ruined man made area. The graphics and art style of Super Metroid do an amazing job at showing off all the various environments, and you still get the feeling of isolation nearly twenty years later. The music also helps set the mood, with each track fitting each environment due to dark and moody themes.

Yet another great aspect of Super Metroid is the fact that it is highly replayable. Even if you are not one to replay games, Super Metroid is one of those games you will find yourself playing over and over again, trying to discover all its secrets and finishing it in record time, and it does reward those who replay it. The more you play through the game, the better you become at the core mechanics and the faster you can beat the game. The first time you explore planet Zebes on the Super Nintendo, it can take you up to ten or so hours to finish, but after a few playthroughs of perfecting Samus' abilities and learning where everything is, you can beat the game in under three hours. It is an amazing game for experienced and new speed runners alike.

Concluding Thoughts
Super Metroid is one of those rare gems that nearly everyone can play. There is very little to criticize Super Metroid over because it excels at nearly everything it sets out to do, which is to create a large, open environment that encourages exploration. When you play it, it becomes exceedingly obvious why it appears on so many "Best Games of All Time" lists. If you have not played a Metroid game yet, and you are wondering which game to start with, you cannot go wrong with the Super Nintendo classic. It has everything Metroid is known for, including moody music, a sense of isolation, a vast world to explore, and hidden power ups.

Final Score